I am delighted to have a brief opportunity to speak about this important Bill. It is long overdue. It is probably about 30 or 35 years overdue and it certainly does not go remotely far enough to vindicate tenants’ rights and create a fair rental market in this country but even the small steps in this Bill are welcome as an attempt to begin to remedy the worst deficiencies in tenancy law and to face up to the horrendous circumstances of many tenants.
At the end of November 2018, according to the official statistics by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, there were 3,811 homeless children in emergency accommodation managed by local authorities across the country. The Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, has admitted that some people were removed from the homeless figures and it has also been previously confirmed that these figures also did not include families in Direct Provision centres and in the domestic violence refuges.
I am delighted to briefly support Solidarity-PBP’s Bill. On 18 January last year, a similar Bill was almost passed by the House, when sadly and unfortunately, the Fianna Fáil Party abstained from the vote which was tied 51:51. I warmly commend Solidarity-PBP for updating and reintroducing this vitally important Bill. I note that student-specific accommodation is mentioned along with several other changes.
Given our experience over the past decade of poor performance in the delivery of social housing, does the Minister agree with the many excellent civil society groups, including the Mercy Law Resource Centre, who argue that we should insert a right to housing into our Constitution? Numerous Opposition Deputies have tried to bring forward motions and Bills on this issue, including Deputy Thomas Pringle who introduced the Thirty-Seventh Amendment to the Constitution (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) Bill 2018. Is it now time to include the right to housing in our Constitution?
On a number of occasions, I have raised with the Minister and the Taoiseach the fact that my constituency of Dublin Bay North has the largest number of people on social housing waiting lists. In September, three families became homeless every day nationally. Week in, week out, I meet families with children who are sofa surfing and living in very overcrowded accommodation. A total of 35,000 people are living in such accommodation. Almost 10,000 more are homeless and living in emergency accommodation, hubs, hotels and guesthouses. There are also people sleeping in their cars or trying to do so as the weather begins to turn. What kind of hope can somebody like me give those families as we approach the Christmas period, particularly people in the offer zone, that the situation will be expedited? Has the Minister any plans to drastically improve the delivery of social housing in Dublin?
As the Minister knows, we still have almost 4,000 children experiencing homelessness in emergency accommodation, with perhaps thousands more in insecure and unsuitable accommodation. The Minister told me earlier this year that we now have 120 family resource centres operating across the country with a budget of approximately €14 million. Does the Minister intend to give increased allocations to some or all of the centres in order to provide some services for families and children experiencing homelessness?
I’m delighted to be supporting the #RaiseTheRoof campaign today and commend those involved in organising it. It is about time that we had a huge movement of all those representing everyone affected by the housing and homeless crisis. The emergency has now permeated all sectors of our society (bar the Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil pro-landlord sectors obviously) and it spans all generations from homeless children, to students unable to find appropriate rental accommodation, young professionals forced to live at home for longer due to unaffordable rents, to people unable to save for deposits for mortgages, to families whose mortgages are being sold to vulture funds or struggling with arrears or repossession threats, to older people dependent on Rent Supplement alongside their pensions. I commend the unions, ICTU, USI and others who have mobilised for today’s rally.
On Tuesday night, Deputy Broughan voted for the Motion of No Confidence in the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy. He said that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil should be “banished from Government” for at least a generation for presiding over the growing Housing Crisis and allowing 4,000 children to become homeless. Last week, Deputy Broughan had submitted an oral Parliamentary Question to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone asking her to report the number of children that have been in emergency homeless accommodation by hubs or hotels and guesthouses for less than 3 to 6, 6 to 9, 9 to 12, 12 to 24 and for 24 months plus, respectively. This question was transferred to Minister Murphy for reply.
As the Minister is aware, something of the order of 5,000 individuals and families in the Dublin Bay North constituency I represent are on the city council’s housing list and a further 2,500 are on the transfer list. When the Fingal part of our constituency is added – I see the Minister of Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, is in attendance – we have by far the worst housing list in the country, higher than any other county, the whole of Fingal or the whole of south Dublin.
There were more than 21,000 landlords receiving Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) for almost 37,800 tenancies around the country at the end of Quarter 2 2018. Funding for HAP, which accommodates people with a social housing need in the private rented sector, jumped by €149 million to €301 million in 2018. There are a further 19,388 Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) tenancies with funding of €134 million. Almost 10,000 people are now in emergency homeless accommodation across the state and we know that there has been some massaging of figures for them to appear lower. The true rate of homelessness, which includes hidden homeless, those in Direct Provision and domestic violence refuges is far higher than the official Government data.